Even for experienced SEO professionals, search optimization can be confusing. There are hundreds, if not thousands of different factors that can enter into how your site ranks, and those factors change frequently (and oftentimes, without warning).
If you’re adhering to best practices — to the best of your ability — and there’s a sudden disruption in your progress, it’s common to feel disheartened. But take comfort knowing that it’s happened to all of us, and those pesky SEO mysteries aren’t always as mysterious as they may first seem.
Draw insight from these seven common SEO “mysteries” that often plague new campaigns:
1. Why did my traffic suddenly drop?
You’ve been seeing steady results for a while now, but all of a sudden, your organic traffic has declined. What could be the case? It depends on how severe the decline is. If you notice a decline of 10 percent or less, it’s probably nothing to worry about; you should expect some natural fluctuations due to index refreshes, new competitors, and new factors.
At the other extreme, if your traffic drops to almost nothing (which is extremely rare), you have a serious problem. It could mean your site is down or you’re facing a manual Google penalty (you can check to see if either of these are affecting your site in Google Search Console).
If you’re somewhere in the middle, check for any recent “bad” inbound links that could be considered as spam by Google, any recent content changes to your site that may have changed your page URLs, or a new Google update that may have significantly changed your rankings.
1. Why aren’t my pages showing up in search results?
If your pages aren’t showing up in Google search at all, it means they haven’t been indexed. If you’ve created a new site, don’t worry — it typically takes between 4 and 28 days for Google to index new web content. If you want to speed up the process, you can submit an XML sitemap through your Search Console (which is a good measure to take in general).
If you’re still having trouble with certain pages showing up, check your robots.txt file to make sure you haven’t accidentally blocked search bots from seeing your pages. As a last resort, you can check for crawl errors in Google Search Console to pinpoint the root cause of the problem.
2. What happened to my link?
If you built a link pointing to your site, but it’s suddenly disappeared, the solution is usually simple; the site that hosted it removed it. They may have found the link irrelevant, they may have removed your content entirely, or they may have replaced it with a “nofollow” link.
Double check with the publisher, and attempt to build a replacement link elsewhere.
3. Why do my rankings keep changing?
It’s natural to expect some kind of volatility in your rankings. It would be strange, in fact, if your rankings weren’t changing at all. Don’t drive yourself crazy by checking your rankings every day; instead, shoot for bi-weekly or monthly check-ins. Like the stock market, rankings will go up and down over time; what you’re looking for is an overall uptrend.
However, if you’re facing extreme volatility (drastic ups and downs on a regular basis), it means something in your strategy is inconsistent (such as alternating between black hat and white hat techniques, or producing both low-quality and high-quality content).
4. Why aren’t I seeing better SEO results?
This is a more open-ended problem than the others on this list. If you just started a campaign, remember that SEO is a long-term strategy, and depending on your niche, budget, and competition, it could take months before you start to see results.
If you’ve been at it for a few months and you aren’t satisfied with the results, consider upping your budget — more money means higher quality (in many cases), and higher volume. Don’t be afraid to consult with an expert if you can’t seem to build momentum.
5. Why is my traffic so volatile?
See my answer to “rankings” in point four. Volatility isn’t specific to rankings; it will affect your traffic as well. However, traffic bears an additional consideration; the ebb and flow of your business.
Does your industry have a “peak” season that could be responsible for driving more traffic, or does your traffic seem to be correlated with specific events (such as more “air conditioning” searches on especially hot days)?
6. Why is my site running slow?
This isn’t an analytics issue like the other mysteries on this list, but your site speed does have an impact on your rankings and performance. If you know your site loading speed is a problem but you can’t get it to load faster, consider downsizing the image files on your site and stripping any plugins you don’t use regularly.
Then, delete any meta information or drafts you don’t need and optimize your caching plugins so you can load faster on previous visitors’ devices. If speed continues to be a problem, consider upgrading your hosting provider.
These aren’t the only issues you could run into while managing an SEO campaign, but they are some of the most common. Your solution may not be obvious, but as long as you keep digging, eventually you’ll find the root cause — or at least, some way to reverse the situation.
There’s usually more than one culprit and more than one way to fix the problem — a gracious side effect of SEO’s complexity — so the next time you face an optimization enigma, remain calm and start troubleshooting.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!